Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 8/2/1998
Hosea 11:1-11; Colossians 3:1-11
There was probably no better example of this than Saul of Tarsus. Saul was one of the most brilliant minds in the ancient world. He knew the classical languages. He was an expert on Hebrew law. He was a Roman citizen, a status for a Jew that could only have been purchased for him by a very wealthy father. He had achieved a high social status in the Greek city of Tarsus, a prosperous and renowned center of education and philosophy. While in Jerusalem, Paul was a student of Gamaliel, the grandson of one of Israel's most famous teachers, Rabbi Hillel. In other words, Saul had it all. But, did he? What happened next has implications for all of us.
One day Saul had a vision that motivated him to abandon nearly everything he once held sacred. One day while traveling on the road to Damascus, Saul was overwhelmed by an awareness that his life was missing the mark. From that day forward, he walked away from everything he had been in order to become a spokesperson for the very teachings he had been trying to destroy. It was from his changed mind that Paul wrote to the Colossians:
. . . you have put off the old self with its habits and have put on the new self. This is the new being which God, its Creator, is constantly renewing in his own image, in order to bring you to a full knowledge of himself. (vrs. 9 & 10)
Many of us live as Saul of Tarsus was living. Prior to his vision, Paul did not know that his life needed to be liberated from how he had been educated to think. He did not realize that he was missing the mark with his life. His skills and knowledge were greater than those of most people in the ancient world, but they were causing him to attack people whose beliefs were different from his own. Saul's vigorous defense of his Hebrew faith and his persecution of the followers of Jesus were perfectly justified. All of us have marvelous reasons for everything we do.
What Paul did with his missionary journeys, his many letters and his preaching was to try to convince everyone of the truth Jesus brought. So, we come back to the same question. How do we know that we need to change? When do we understand that we are not growing? How do we discover that our thinking, beliefs and behavior are actually taking us away from what God designed us to be? Truth has always surrounded us, but sometimes it only becomes clear when it confronts our behavior as it did with Saul of Tarsus.
The story of David and Bathsheba is a good example of truth's power. As you recall, during their affair, Bathsheba conceived. To cover one error of judgment David engaged in a second. He made secret arrangements to have Bathsheba's husband killed in battle. Once this deed was done, he committed a third by taking what was not his. Bathsheba moved into the palace and became David's wife.
Learning what David had done, the prophet Nathan confronted him. Nathan told David about a town where there lived a very rich man and a very poor man. The rich man had lots of livestock. The poor man had only one lamb that he had raised. The lamb had become like a daughter to him. One day a friend visited the wealthy man's home. Not wanting to kill one of his own animals, the wealthy man took the poor man's only lamb, killed it and served it to his guest.
David became enraged at hearing the story and said, "I swear by the living Lord that the man who did this should die! For having done such a cruel thing, he must pay back four times as much as he took!" Nathan said to David, "You are that man!" David instantly saw his image in Nathan's mirror. Truth does that. Truth corrects every error in judgment.
Few of us know the precise moment we start down a path that increases our loss of direction. It can begin with a single lie. It can begin with our placing competition at the office above our desire for caring relationships. It can begin with our thinking that we want and need what does not belong to us. It can begin when we start blaming others for the way we feel. Paul wrote to the Colossians that such thinking is not of God.
What made Paul well qualified to hold a mirror in front of his listeners and readers is that he knew himself to be "the worst of all sinners." (I Tim.1:15). Paul had been there. By his own admission, Paul had it all, including every misguided behavior imaginable. When he experienced total liberation from his past, Paul spent the rest of his life trying to teach others who they can be, "a new being which God, its Creator, is constantly renewing in his own image, in order to bring you to a full knowledge of himself."
Having truth confront us is a "Godsend." It is the greatest single event that can happen to us. It allowed the Prodigal Son to find liberation when he chose to walk away from the way he had been living and come home. The Scriptures tell us that it is a glorious day in Heaven when a person has a change of mind. There is no need for guilt and remorse; there is only room for celebration. When we lose our way, truth helps us find it again. When we learn how truth helps our spirits find release, it is graduation day! Truth is our friend, not our accuser.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Merciful God, how well we know that we cannot earn what you freely give us. All around us we are blessed by colors of the cardinal, the blue jay, and the goldfinch. We see innocence in the faces of children. We marvel as those much older than ourselves share with us the essence of their distilled wisdom. Help us, O God, to seek those areas of life that inspire us to identify with harmony, peace, and hope. Such things are without price and they completely surround us. Remind us that nothing in nature has had to work to achieve its color, its texture, or its fruit. Remind us that a loving spirit is what created the world and all that is in it. Remind us that we also have such a loving spirit within us. Help us to live so that others will enjoy our light, our laughter and our unencumbered spirits. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving and ever faithful God, these moments together often hold a mirror in front of us. Your word corrects our thinking. Your word offers us a framework in which our lives flourish, bloom, and bear fruit. We thank you for such a gift.
There have been so many times when our lives have been caught up in a drama that kindled our anger, our sense of justice, and our resolve to fix every wrong. And then we were confronted with the truth of the Cross that said, "Let nothing prevail over your ability to love one another as I have loved you, even if that means the surrender of your life."
We thank you that you created us to love. We thank you for the knowledge that loving people are the only ones you can send into the chaos of this world in order to make the difference that is needed. You do not need any more accusers, or warriors, or judges. You send those who reflect the wisdom of your Son who said, "I have come among you as one who serves."
May our lives reflect your handiwork. May they always be a testimony to your ability to create what is perfect. We thank you that happiness remains the by-product of our growth toward that perfection. With grateful hearts, we now pray together the prayer Jesus taught us to say. . .